A Cliftonville mum says her six-year-old son has not been to school for more than two months due to a dispute over special needs provision, appropriate levels of support and the failure to get an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) put in place.
Nina Sellen, 31, says Palm Bay Primary pupil Theo, who is diagnosed autistic and awaiting an assessment for ADHD, is not getting the help he needs and she feels she has “more chance of winning the lottery” than getting a suitable education for her son.
The youngster has been excluded from school on two occasions and last attended in March.
Issues arose in December when the teacher who had been pushing for one-to-one support for Theo, left the school. A lunchtime supervisor who helped Theo during break times left the same month. Then there was a dispute over whether Theo had pushed an adult on school grounds which resulted in Nina raising a complaint.
The crunch came in March when teachers ‘evacuated’ a classroom due to Theo having a ‘meltdown.’ Staff say in an incident recording form that Theo was kicking, punching and shouting and at this point his shoes were removed from him because he was kicking out.
Nina, who is also autistic, says she was in the school reception area at the time and has questioned why staff didn’t fetch her to deal with her son instead of restraining Theo. She says teachers should have been aware that Theo is ‘tactile defensive’ – meaning he becomes emotional when he is touched.
The events have led to her making complaints to the school, governors and Kent County Council’s safeguarding officer. She says she is now keeping Theo at home until a new school placement is found and gaining the EHCP is vital for her to secure a this at a specialist school. However, the EHCP has been declined and Nina is taking her case to tribunal.
‘I want him to have the full-time education that every child in this country is entitled to.’
She said: “All I have been asking for are reasonable adaptions to be in place for Theo. There has been very little Senco involvement and he has got a referral to Greenbanks for an ADHD assessment.
“His reception teacher in the first year was the best teacher ever and went above and beyond to help him deal with his emotional needs but she left in December.
“I have been telling the school for 18 months that Theo has sensory processing difficulties. More specifically he is tactile defensive. They have it in their records, so they know if he is touched it is likely to cause a meltdown.
“His EHCP has been declined and I was asking from February 2018 for involvement from Specialist Teaching and Learning Services (STLS) which took almost 12 months, until January this year. When an appointment was finally arranged it was cancelled 30 minutes before the assessment was due.
“For Theo to get into a specialist school he needs his EHCP. I want him to have the full-time education that every child in this country is supposedly entitled to.
“Now he seems to have no school, no support and no one-to-one. I feel like I have more chance of winning the lottery than this all working out in Theo’s favour.”
‘Difficulties facing schools and families in gaining specialist provision’
Palm Bay Primary School said staff are working to achieve “a positive outcome,” and support the attempts to gain an EHCP.
But the school, like all others, is also contending with significant cuts to funding meaning some support can be challenging.
Head teacher Lizzie Williams said: “Theo and his parents are members of our school and we do not wish there to be any antagonism or ill-will. We also recognise the underlying issue that this article raises, namely the difficulties facing schools and families in gaining specialist provision to support children with significant special educational needs.
“One of the reasons Educational Health Care Plans (EHCPs) are so important is that they can name a specialist school to ensure that a child gains access to specialist provision. In February 2018, the family requested an EHCP through their GP. For this, we provided supporting evidence to the Local Authority, but the LA’s decision was not to award Theo an EHCP.
“In March 2019, the school requested an EHCP assessment from the LA due to Theo’s increasing needs. Like the family, we were disappointed that the LA again decided not to carry out an EHCP assessment.
“The school was successful in an application for high needs funding to support Theo. However, with regard to further pursuing an EHCP, it is not possible for the school to do this while the parents are choosing to keep Theo at home.
“During this time the school has tried to liaise with them and with the Local Authority to support him back into school and to agree the best place for his continued education.
“As a school, we support the family in their desire to gain an EHCP and we feel their difficulty in gaining appropriate funding for placement at a school with specialist provision highlights the difficulties that many families face at this time. At Palm Bay, we are fully committed to supporting pupils with SEND and we look forward to the continued support and guidance from the Local Authority in doing this. “
Kent County Council
Nina has been contacted by Kent County Council who say a Senior School Improvements Adviser is due to visit the school. The school say they are yet to be notified of the visit but Ms Williams added: “Hopefully, for both the school and family, this will happen soon, as we recognise what a difficult time this must be for Theo and his parents.”
Roger Gough, Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education, said: “Kent County Council has been contacted by the family of a pupil at Palm Bay Primary School as they have concerns about the provision their child is receiving.
“We are committed to ensuring every child in Kent has access to a high quality school place that is appropriate for their individual needs and we are working closely with the child, their family and the school to ensure that is able to happen in this case.
“One of KCC’s SEN (Special Educational Needs) Provision Evaluation Officers) is due to visit the school to work with staff and ensure the best possible outcome for this pupil.”
Last month KCC said action was being taken to improve care for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), following a highly critical letter from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) and the CQC (Care Quality Commission).
The joint letter highlighted failings discovered during an inspection at the end of January this year, Inspectors said children and young people with SEND in Kent experienced unacceptable inequality when accessing services.
Kent County Council and the NHS are now working together on a joint strategy to improve care for children with SEND and regain the trust of parents.